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The Clean Water Act

Recently, I was reading an article in the Quad City Times discussing the Clean Water Act and a recent court case that could reverse its protection. It has been 50 years since the Act came into effect and we began to reverse the toxic degradation of U.S. waterways that the people use. It establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the water of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters. The U.S.’s waterway quality slowly improved as it was protected from dumping and pollution caused by farming. This act feels like it benefits everybody. How could anyone argue against the right to clean water for all? Now, 50 years after the act was first established, its protection of U.S. waterways is at stake. I dug a little deeper to see what this court case entailed.

According to earthjustice.org, on October 3 rd , Sackett versus EPA was brought to the Supreme Court. The case was brought by Michael and Chantell Sackett. The Sacketts are Idaho landowners being represented by Pacific Legal Foundation. The Sacketts bought land which contained sensitive wetlands and needed to acquire proper permits to be able to develop it. The Sacketts did not want to follow the EPA’s processes for obtaining a permit for the lake house; they wanted to build and instead began to sue the EPA in 2007.

In 2015, the EPA issued a regulation that defined “waters of the United States,” a term that determines which waters the Clean Water Act protects. The Trump administration later attempted to replace that regulation with one that would have substantially narrowed the law’s protections, excluding wetlands.

The Pacific Legal Foundation argues that wetlands should not be included in “waters of the United States”. The EPA is now working on an updated definition of the term, but the Supreme Court is not waiting for them to finish it.

You may be thinking, why make such a fuss over one lake house in Idaho? Well, that’s because this is not about the Sackett’s Lake house, it is about the importance of wetlands and the devastation of draining them. Wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world as they are home to many species of organisms and act as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water. Wetlands also store large amounts of carbon dioxide which is very important now and in the future with the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We have already lost many miles of wetlands to farming and land development and it would be devastating to continue to lose this important ecosystem. That is why it is incredibly important for the Clean Water Act to protect them.